• Department of Health plans to roll out GS1 barcoding standards to 25 more trusts
  • Business case being developed for funding to pay for implementation
  • DH commercial director warns if NHS does not rise to efficiency challenge “we’re not going to have a free at the point of use health service”

The Department of Health is planning to roll out barcoding technology to 25 more trusts to help them save money and improve patient safety.

Pat Mills, the DH’s commercial director, revealed that a business case is being developed to obtain funding for a second wave of organisations to adopt GS1 standards. He claimed if the NHS was unable to rise to the challenge of making savings then within a decade “we’re not going to have a free at the point of use health service”.

GS1 is a system of unique identification numbers, often involving the use of barcodes.

The DH believes adoption of the standards across the NHS presents a huge opportunity to make savings by reducing manual entry and improving inventory management.

It could also improve patient safety by eliminating human error, by allowing products to be tracked in case of safety recall, and by providing full information on what treatment has been received, at what time, and who dispensed it.

The government is committed to rolling out the standards across the NHS, and earlier this year allocated £12m to six trusts to implement GS1 as “demonstrators”.

Speaking at a procurement conference last week, Mr Mills said implementing the standards across the service would take “many years – tentatively five years, possibly longer”.

He said the DH was planning to roll out GS1 to 25 more trust next year.

This would require “extra money”, and whether this would be available would be “tied up with what happens to the government over the next few months” in the wake of the EU referendum result, Mr Mills said.

He said the DH had discovered that some demonstrators were diverting the money they had been allocated for use elsewhere, and warned that a “control regime” might be necessary to stop this happening.

“If we give trusts money to [implement GS1], you need to know that money is going to get into it, not be siphoned off into [sustainability and transformation plans],” Mr Mills said.

He indicated that for the next wave money might be made available on a “quid pro quo” basis, with trusts drawing funds from a pot and then replenishing it with savings made through the programme.

“Alternatively if trusts have spare money themselves to fund it, they can come on to the programme early, pay for themselves, and book all the benefits,” he added.

Speaking more broadly about the NHS’s efficiency challenge, Mr Mills said the work was “fundamentally about the survival of the service – the service cannot carry on the way it operates today”.

“We have to get procurement more efficient, we have to drive the savings to be able to keep the wheels on the system.

“If we can’t do that, frankly in eight or nine years’ time we’re not going to have a free at the point of use health service,” he said.

A DH spokeswoman said the extension of the GS1 scheme was contingent on the priorities of new ministers, the new prime minister and funding availability, as well as upon seeing benefits from the demonstrator sites.